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Mirror mirror on my email

There’s a wealth of information about our rhythms and routines scattered about our email inboxes. What if we could gain valuable personal insights from this data?

Back when Edward Snowden leaked the details about the NSA’s PRISM program, a lot of people seemed unphazed by the government’s monitoring of metadata on emails. However, all these snippets of information regarding things like senders, receivers and timestamps can be analyzed together to paint a rough picture of someone’s habits. Even before the NSA scandal broke, an academic paper already outlined how, combined with ancillary information, metadata can be used to correctly identify someone in a broad universe.

How about using these high-end espionage techniques to better purposes? By giving your email client (and your email client alone) access to all the data contained in your inbox, you would be able to successfully diagnose your routine. Usage times, peak productivity hours, or categorizing emails by amounts of work demanded are options. And once you have this information, your email client would be able to sort incoming email by estimated reply time, tag with the usual tasks associated with it, or even provide them with a specific automatic reply.

The MIT has already played around with Immersion, a tool capable of building an approximation of your network and its relationship charts from your email metadata. And a San Francisco startup has already shaped a business model out of this method. All this work could simply be plugged into email clients to allow users to benefit from those metrics without any fear of sharing their information with third parties.

Going to a tarot reading has timeless appeal for believers - skeptics could find the same mystifying allure in snooping on themselves.